Inner Reflections
February 15, 2021

Identity. Racial Diversity. Economic Inclusion

By Denise

Identity. Growing up in South Central L.A., I knew I had options, but those options, I was told, were few and far between. Fear of becoming a statistic, rather than a person living the fullness of her life, was a driving force to me.

When I was in elementary school, the administrators told my mother that in order for me to “get out,” of our impoverished community, I’d have to be bussed out to an area with more resources that could better educate and assist in the development of my crafts. We were advised that the three-to-four-hour daily roundtrip commutes to distant learning centers would set me up with a fighting chance to beat the odds in my neighborhood. So that’s what we did.

They said my home schools couldn’t provide the advanced academic or artistic training I needed to develop my talents. Well, why not? I’m sure I wasn’t the only child in my community worthy of being poured into. Was there an unspoken “Golden Ticket,” raffle that granted a select few of my kind the luxury of information? Shouldn’t educating and investing in our youth be available nationwide, including my hometown of South-Central Los Angeles? Apparently, not at that time. Well…how about now?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are lacking diversity in most industries, as we aren’t prioritizing educating all communities. How can one be competitive in various industries in adulthood, if not educated during childhood? This is the dilemma we face. Diversity in education needs to start with the youth for us to achieve economic and occupational empowerment for all.

Upon graduating from L.A. County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), I was accepted to The Ailey School, The Boston Conservatory, Tisch and NYU to continue the study of dance. I was greatly disappointed to decline acceptances to these institutions, due to lack of financial resources. Suddenly, my lifelong plans changed, my golden ticket tarnished and my identity was stolen. I was crushed. For years I mourned, living with a grief-stricken heart.

Eventually, I rediscovered hope in a yoga class – my healing journey began and I found a new path to my purpose. I discovered an alternative, equally purposeful, renewed identity in healing through movement and art. However, how many others have gotten discouraged, weary and lost hope? Too many.

We’ve inherited a system that would benefit us all to reform. We inhabit civilization as a collective, therefore we’re all beneficiaries of more joyful, whole, and healthy individuals. One of my best friends says it best, “Not caring about the well-being of the collective, is like having a pee section in the pool.” We’re literally all in this pool together, so let someone use your bathroom now and again, or we all eventually will be covered in waste.

I believe change is coming. I believe we will create a new world with the lessons learned from our past. Let us celebrate diversity and be intentional about casting wider networks of relatability. May I suggest starting by learning the difference between Nationality, Ethnicity and Culture. Countless times people have asked me what my nationality is. When I’ve replied “American,” they appear confused and/or dissatisfied with my response. So, here’s a little quick reference for you. Nationality, indicates the country you were born in. When people say they’re half American, I don’t know what that means, unless you, of course, are half Native American, which would make sense. Ethnicity is your race. Culture is the customs, foods and arts of a certain country or social group. For example, I am American, as I was born in America. My ethnicities are African, French and Korean. The cultures I identify with are Creole and Black Culture. I’ve never met the Asian side of my family, but I am so open to that connection and learning more about Asian Culture.

Learning these three things about someone is not only interesting, but informative. Please be mindful of your delivery when navigating these topics, as race relations can be a sensitive topic for some. The more you know about someone, the better you can understand them. I believe story humanizes the stranger in front of you. They become a person, with a family, with a heart and a soul. It’s easier to love a person, rather than a character constructed by a limiting concept, oftentimes based on something we saw poorly portrayed through the media. We are all global citizens and as Americans’ specifically, we have so many sub-cultures within our nation. Due to proximity alone, we have the opportunity to learn so much more about each other. Let us begin to optimize that gift.

Prioritize Inclusion. Create groups that are like minded in values and diverse in cultures. Far too many living rooms, churches, creative outlets, yoga classes and thinking containers are segregated. Let’s mix it! Multiple flavors make the best gumbo, if you ask me. But, how do we do this? It’s not like we can post an ad on Craigslist that reads, “Seeking more racial diversity in my sphere. Are you or do you know any cool, non-black people? Not any racist folks though, please? I have PTSD from a number of racially charged traumatic events and don’t have the energy to explain why the Black Lives Matter Movement is a necessary affirmation and reminder our world desperately needs right now!”

That would be super weird right…? Even my comedic way of coping with my life experiences through my phantom CL post, could be uncomfortable for some. We have all had different life experiences, therefore see the world and current state of humanity differently. We can still choose to be respectful of and listen to each other. That’s the only way we can grow into a reality where we all feel safe, valued and free.

So be open. Visit the platforms, virtual events, etc. that interest you. Stay open to organic connection with someone who doesn’t look like you. That’s how I’ve approached life and the landscape of my friendships reflects it. Through my friend groups and communities, I’ve learned so much about other cultures, have been stimulated by amazing art, expanded my relationship with God/Spiritual Practice and eaten some absolutely delicious foods!

Thank you for listening to some of my thoughts on diversity, empowerment and inclusion. The responsibility and opportunity to make change are very important to me. If you’d like to partner with me in bringing a more inclusive world into fruition, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m open to listen, serve and take action, together. Let us leave our children with a more loving and fruitful world than we’ve known. Join me…Yes, we can.

Below are some recommended practices as always:

Yin Yoga Travis Eliot

Wisdom Talk Inner Dimension TV